By Steve Wittich

A 59-day layoff directly following a final lap, final corner self-induced mistake that prevented a trip to victory lane, is one of a race car driver’s worst nightmares.

Darren Keane, who just finished his second semester in the Mechanical Engineering program at the University of Florida, is no different than most drivers.

“It’s been a pretty interesting couple of months since St. Pete,” said Keane to TSO Ladder. “Mentally, it’s been really tough. It was destroying me for a couple of weeks. But, it has helped me realize that I’ve been putting way too much pressure on myself. To the point that I’m not really enjoying myself anymore. It’s almost a straight job.”

However, after a few weeks of contemplation, Keane took advantage of the long break to transform his approach coming to the second race weekend of the year, the USF2000 Grand Prix of Indianapolis double-header.

“My mindset is 100% changed now. Indy is going to be a test to see what a different mindset can do,” explained the 19-year-old. “The last time that I really, really enjoyed myself was at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October. That went really well for me. I broke two unofficial track records in two different cars.

“My goal for Indy is to try and go back to that mindset where I’m just showing up to have some fun! Whatever happens, happens.”

Up until that last lap, last corner mistake, Keane proved to the rest of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship field that he is one of the drivers to beat in the battle for the advancement scholarship.

A transponder issue in the first qualifying session resulted in a back of the field start for the first race. During the race, Keane used a perfect blend of patience and pace, passing a dozen cars and setting the quickest lap of the race on the way to a solid seventh-place finish.

Darren Keane fights through the field in the first race of the year in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The Cal Development/Keane Architectural Woodwork sponsored No. 2 piloted by Keane ended the second qualifying session almost an unheard of four-tenths ahead of his Cape Motorsports teammate Braden Eves.

Keane lost the lead early to Christian Rasmussen in the 25-lap second race but was able to get around the Jay Howard Driver Development driver, holding him at bay until that ill-fated final corner.

After spending his first two seasons in USF2000 with a different team, Keane’s adjustment to the championship-winning Cape Motorsports has been smooth.

All of the guys are really good,” Keane told TSO Ladder. “I get along really well with my mechanic Scott. They are a great group of guys. They are always pushing me to my best. They are going to get the best out of me no matter how long it takes. They really make sure that I’m maximizing myself and if I’m not, they’re going to let me know. It’s nice to have that extra little motivation.”

Keane also benefits from having two quick teammates, winner of the two races in St. Petersburg, Eves and 2018 Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series champion, Reece Gold.

Keane has plenty of experience on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course, making four previous USF2000 and taking part in a pair of Chris Griffis Memorial Tests.

Keane turned the quickest time in the USF-!7 during the 2017 Chris Griffis Memorial Test and last year went back and forth between USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 machinery. The dual American and Irish citizen had the quickest time in the PM-18 and the second fastest time in USF2000.

Keane finished fourth in the second race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last year, his best finish at the historic track.

“Obviously St. Pete was my fault,” reiterated Keane at the end of his conversation with TSO Ladder. “I’m trying to hit the reset button with my mind right now and try and enjoy myself. Once I get to that point, the results are going to come, and I won’t put so much pressure on myself.”

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship testing and practice gets underway on Thursday, May 9, with qualifying and racing the next two days.